Most people like chocolate; myself included and I was thrilled to be asked if I would be interested in attending the UK National Selection of the World Chocolate Masters, at the Restaurant Show. I was even more excited to be offered the chance to interview one of the competitors, Chef Graham Hornigold, Head Pastry Chef at Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park, London and Pastry Chef of the Year.
The World Chocolate Masters is a huge international competition with the winner being awarded the title of “World Chocolate Master”. 2010 – 2011 is the 4th time the competition has run and the theme is “Cocoa Quetzalcoatl’s Gift”, with competitors being asked to produce show-pieces reflecting the mystery surrounding the discovery of chocolate in the South American rainforest.
“The theme seeks to transport participants and spectators to the mystical origins of cocoa in the distant history of Aztec civilisation. The Aztecs believed that it was the God, Quetzalcoatl, who created cocoa as a divine gift to relieve fatigue and provide pleasurable rest.”
2 day national pre selections are taking place in 20 different countries, before the 3 day final held at the Salon De Chocolate Professional in Paris during October 2011. Qualifying is serious stuff; competitors have to make dipped and moulded pralines, gastronomic chocolate dessert, a chocolate pastry, a creation from a mystery box and most excitingly a show-piece sculpture with a minimum height of 1m! All this happens over 2 days at the Restaurant show at Earl’s Court on the 11 & 12th October. Fittingly this co-incides with the first two days of chocolate week.
The UK Competitors are:
- Andrew Gregson-Brown, Andy’s Creative Cakes
- Ruth Hinks, Cocoa Black, Peebles
- John Costello, Park Cakes
- Conor McAlonan, Cork City Hall
- Graham Hornigold, Mandarin Oriental, Hyde Park
Graham’s biography is seriously impressive.
Graham is responsible for a strong team of 12 overseeing all dessert preparation at Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park, London. This includes the carefully hand-crafted cakes and pastries of our legendary Afternoon Tea as well as banqueting menus, canapés, in-room amenities and breakfast goods. Graham originally assisted with the closure, design and re-opening of Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park, London before joining The Lanesborough as Executive Pastry Chef where throughout his six successful years, he collected a successful array of accolades including ‘Pastry Chef of the Year’ at the Craft Guild of Chefs Awards and four Tea Awards by the Tea Guild.
Starting his career at Sopwell House, St Albans, the former country home of Lord Mountbatten, he has also graced the distinguished kitchens of the Park Lane Hotel and Lygon Arms, part of the Savoy Group.
With his modern classical style, creating signature dishes such as White Chocolate Mandarin Semi Freddos and Candied Macadamia Spicy Caramel, and his enthusiasm for assembling innovative and exciting menus, Graham is unquestionably one of the leading pastry chefs in the UK and a valued member of Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park’s Food and Beverage team.
I met Chef Graham at the new Bar Boulud at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, London, where we drank coipus quantities of excellent coffee, I was slightly hungover, Graham tired, Graham said he needs a kick to get going in the mornings; long working hours as a chef and two small children mean that he rarely gets enough sleep. After his morning coffee Graham drinks green tea that seemingly flows on tap in his pastry kitchen.
The first question I asked Graham was why did he become a chef. His answer was simple and succinct; “hunger”. He learnt at home and cooked when there was the electricity to be able to cook. He works hard, his work ethic is simple; he feels that he owes it to someone and everyone that has helped him to do well, and he wants something better for his kids, he also has a goal to never stop learning
He followed a classical training, working whilst at college (he recalls nearly being thrown out of college as he was so tired). Refreshingly Graham is quick to remember everyone that has helped in in his career; Ushers, the bakers in St Alban’s where he had his first job wrapping bread, lent him the money for his first set of knives. Lisa Phillips who taught him everything at college. His brother that used to drive him to work.
He tells me that he followed a career into pastry as it is expressive and creative, had he not been a chef he would have wanted a career in art and graphic design. Pastries make people happy and pleases them, it was obvious that Graham gets a huge amount of pleasure from people enjoying and being made happy by his creations. “Fresh is best – and taste is everything” he says.
Paul Gayler, Graham’s then boss at the Lanesborough nominated him for Pastry Chef of the Year, which he won in 2007. “It was like the Oscars!” Graham told me, he went to the event and to his delight was given the title. As a past winner he helped to judge the competition this year.
Turning to the World Chocolate Masters I learn that this is the first competition in 11 years he is taking part in (the last was the Master of Culinary Arts Annual Awards of Excellence), he attended the competition last year and met the competitors. He has planned his show-piece sculpture; which according to the rules needs to be between 1 to 2 meters high, within 60cm in diameter and on an Aztec theme. He estimates that it will take him 6 – 8 hours to create. Previously he has created chocolate displays in the Mandarin’s Park Restaurant, sadly there is nowhere to store his sculptures so they are broken down for reuse.
Graham’s kitchen is his domain; air-conditioned to a comfortable 16C to make working the chocolate easier. It is also equipped with induction hobs that he insisted that were bought when he started the job, gas hobs being too hot and not controllable enough for chocolate work. As well as the green tea, Graham’s ipod is in the kitchen. “It is my pacemaker!” he jokes.
I asked Graham how he stays in shape with all the delicious food he works with; he replied that he is training to run the marathon for World child and in memory of his brothers that were tragically killed in a car crash.
We chatted about food in general, the perception of the general public of food and what they are happy to eat, we both agreed that there is far too much cheap, poor quality food available, and for many people cheap production, both in shops and in the catering profession is acceptable.
Graham has set himself the goal to never stop learning and pushes himself to be the best he can be, he laments the lack of skill in the profession; good pastry chefs are expensive to employ, and hard to find.
I thoroughly enjoyed talking to Graham, he really is a very very nice chap, and am very grateful for him taking an hour out of his busy day to talk to me, I am hugely looking forward to seeing him on Monday and Tuesday and watching the competition and seeing what his sculpture will be. I wish him every success and hope that he will get to go to Paris to represent the UK and compete in the final round of the competition.